new normal /ˈnü/ /ˈnȯr-məl/ noun: A previously unfamiliar or atypical situation that has become standard, usual, or expected (according to OxfordDictionaries.com)
I was done with cancer. Mastectomy, check. Reconstruction, check. Implant removal and replacement…check, check.
People thought they were being helpful, or maybe hopeful, when they told me it was time for my “new normal.” At first, I hated that phrase, (actually, I still do). It wasn’t because I didn’t want to get used to the physical and emotional changes that would now be part of me forever, but because I hated the idea that the “old normal” was gone. Accepting a new normal seemed to me like admitting cancer had won. When it only won a battle, but I won the war! Well, so far, I have won the war.
It’s been 2 1/2 years since diagnosis. And I am so over the new normal.
I have to ask…what is considered normal? Who is ia an actual model of normal? Have I ever been normal even for a single day?
I think it is stupid for people to talk about a new normal to those who have had cancer. First, you are assuming our previous selves were “normal,” and that cancer was just a bitch-slap in the face destroying our sense of self and makes us call out the injustices of the universe.
I call bullshit.
Breast cancer is a horrible, terrible, very nasty disease, that even with the best treatment is never really gone. And treatment is brutal on a lot of women. And surgery is painful and disfiguring. The drugs you take daily are hard on everyday life. And no matter what the “survival” statistics say, 30% of women with early stage breast cancer will later be diagnosed as metastatic. So, the death rate is at least 30%, since metastatic breast cancer is terminal 100% of the time.
The end of cancer treatment is often a time to rejoice. Most likely you’re relieved to be finished with the demands of treatment. You may be ready to put the experience behind you and have life return to the way it used to be. Or you may be ready to have a fresh start at something new.
It’s not exactly…normal.
And yet, it is.
Cancer afflicts people from all walks of life. It’s not abnormal to suffer during treatment, for life to be hard and even debilitating. It is a regular state of affairs in the cancer world. I combining my experiences from through out my life: motorcycle accident, rape, and spousal abuse when talking about cancer not because I think they are the same things, but because in some way these things prepared me to do this without having the same burden of other women for whom breast cancer is one of the first really bad things to befall them, or at least one of the first bad things that changes their bodies and their physical abilities.
It’s hard to not be able to walk with ease, or sleep seems to be a thing if the past. It’s hard when your brain misfires 100 times a day. And when other people look at you and say, “There is nothing wrong with you, because if there was, you would look as good as you do.” It makes you feel even worse, that no one believes you.
It’s just life, the way a lot of people live it, and it’s better than many people’s normal lives.
I mean, look. I don’t want to be in chemically induced menopause. The hot flashes are like volcanic eruptions and insomnia is now part if my life. But 100% of the women will go through some variation this change if they are lucky enough to live long enough. And then we turn this huge change in life into some kind of punch line, because we don’t know how to deal with women and their issues, and we don’t know how to deal with anyone and their suffering. There is some kind of collective desire for it all to just GO AWAY, it seems.
When you throw normal out there as the goal, it has huge and unfortunate consequences. I have heard from young women–some of them so much tragically younger than me–wondering when they will feel that their reconstructed “breasts” will feel normal.
Oh honey, I hurt for you. Because you had cancer. Your breasts aren’t breasts anymore and there’s no reason they should look like real breasts, because this is what cancer looks like, and none of us will ever have our 23 year old breasts back and the surgeons of the world should STOP USING THAT AS THE MEASUREMENT OF SUCCESS. I have two lumps on my chest that have scars across them with no nipples, and are cold to the touch because it is a bag of mfing silicone, people, not a breast, because that shit was trying to kill me, so I don’t want the normal one back, thanks.
When I hear women feeling so sad about their “new normal” bodies, it breaks my heart. But my heart only breaks momentarily, and then I revert to myself, and I tweet things like “It becomes obvious that the AC in the office is jacked up too high when every guy you work with has hard nipples under their shirt. And me…i am sweating like crazy #justsaying.” The things that happen in life are absurd, and we had better be able to admit to the absurdity or even revel in it, because sorry but I don’t have time to cry.
And being bald, or fatigued, or neuropathy, or having bone pain…these things are difficult, true, but why so much emphasis on acting as if they are not happening? I’m sorry, if my hair thins from tamoxifen, I just cut it to a short pixie and spike it. I don’t care if I look normal. I don’t even know what that means anymore. And if I’m feeling that crushing fatigue that I felt for a few days, yes, I am nuts, so I will force myself to go to the workout or take a long walk in order to feel better, but I will not feel one iota of awkwardness if I have to stop and go sit down and people worry about me or whatever. This is cancer, folks, and this is NORMAL.
It is normal to fold suffering into your life. People do it every day. There’s nothing new about the concept. There’s nothing heroic about it, nothing badass about it, nothing to focus on except the fact that people do what they need to do with what life has handed them.
Cancer has long term consequences. That’s the nature of the beast. That’s the nature of many beasts. The body is a fragile thing. But that does not mean that those of us–so many of us, in so many ways–whose bodies suffer are ourselves fragile beings in need of reassurance that we are still ok, still normal. Maybe we are not normal, maybe we never have been, maybe at some point down the line we stopped caring about that.